See The World-Beating Liveaboards

WE ALL LIKE THE IDEA of staying on a luxury white motor yacht. Its what all multi-millionaires do at some time.
However the super-rich usually stay in well-equipped marinas, close to good restaurants and night-spots, flying by plane to meet their vessel wherever it is deemed suitable to visit.
They rarely spend time at sea, and venture out only far enough from harbour to escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi.
Its the crews that get to endure rough crossings, and spend their time mending and cleaning and polishing once the owners have arrived.
A liveaboard dive vessel is a very different thing, and should be a tool for a demanding job. Its amazing that so many divers are seduced by outward appearance when they choose a vessel, rather than questioning how it might function. They aspire to be Roman Abramovic, owner of a fleet of super-yachts, rather than Jacques Cousteau, who used a rather tatty old ex-Royal Navy minesweeper.
So what makes a good liveaboard

ENGINES
You want to be sure of getting safely to your destination and back, so two engines is the order of the day. Two powerplants also allow the captain to manoeuvre the vessel more precisely, which could be important during awkward pick-ups of divers.
Engines mounted on shock absorbers cause less vibration, and allow you a peaceful nights sleep during travelling time.

SAFETY FEATURES
Navigational equipment is important for your safety, even if you never get to see it. GPS keeps the boat safe from fixed navigational hazards. Radar allows the captain to see other boats, even at night.
A marine VHF radio is powerful enough to keep the vessel in contact with the shore even when out of range of mobile telephone signals.
Other safety gear includes sufficient life-rafts, life-jackets and EPIRBs, and the passengers should be drilled in advance in their use. Few liveaboards carry emergency recompression chambers.

EXIT & ENTRY
When diving from a boat, what is important is the ease with which you can get off and back onto the vessel while at sea. You may travel the last bit to the dive site by inflatable RIB, but the same rules apply.
Youll need a swim platform on the liveaboard that is low to the water but has no overhang under which either you or the inflatable could be swept during big swells. The longer the vessel, the more important this is, because as it pitches and plunges in a head-on sea, this raises the stern. Getting on and off a dive-boat can become a major operation, and the sea is rarely like a millpond.
At the same time, swim-platforms often come equipped with freshwater shower-heads. There is a need for a freshwater shower and toilet to be available near the dive-deck, if divers are not to walk wet with seawater through the saloon to their cabins.

DIVE-DECKS
More and more vessels are purpose-built as liveaboard dive-boats, yet few have dive-decks appropriately sized for the number of divers carried. There are notable exceptions, but designers still put in saloons that are too big and dive-decks too small.
You need room to store your kit ready for use, with items such as fins and masks tucked away safely. Your tank will need to be filled where it is stowed, and this job must be carried out securely, so that a rolling vessel doesnt tip everything onto the deck.

GALLEY
A well-equipped galley with a resourceful, hard-working chef is essential if you are staying on any boat for more than a day. The food needs to be both tasty and nutritious, and to offer plenty of variety.

HULL
A long narrow hull gives good speed, but a wide plodding hull makes for a more stable platform once you get there. A wooden hull sits high in the water and is more affected by the sea state, whereas a steel hull sits lower and more comfortably although, of course, its heavier than wood and, for the same engines, will be much slower. The hull design will decide whether the boat stays dry on rough crossings, or whether the decks are awash.
All vessels, no matter how large, move at the mercy of the elements. You may have seen a picture of your cabin on a website, but its guaranteed that the shot was taken while the boat was in harbour. Once at sea, things might be a lot more chaotic.
If you suffer from seasickness, take the pills in advance. Dont kid yourself that youll be all right this time. Dont expect a fixed itinerary, either - it might have to change on account of wind and waves.

COMPRESSORS
Two high-pressure compressors feed air to a bank, and low-pressure compressors work in conjunction with a membrane system to supply reliable levels of nitrox as needed. High-pressure oxygen supplies with their attendant dangers are kept only for diving emergencies, and possibly for rebreather divers.
An oxygen booster pump will be needed to get the last dregs out of the storage cylinders. If you want to use trimix, youd better check that the vessel carries sufficient helium, and youll also want to know the price charged. Air-cooled compressors are reliable only if positioned in a well-ventilated spot.

GENERATORS
Boats need power, so at least two generators should be available, switching from one to the other to give each a rest. Youll want to know that the right voltage is available for anything you need to recharge, and the captain will want his navigational instruments to function permanently, so a big battery bank must buffer the electrical supply.

ACCOMMODATION
Safety isnt sexy, but youll notice that we have yet to mention the size of the cabins or the saloon and sun-deck areas. These come a long way down the list of whats important, but its nice to have a spacious cabin with en-suite facilities, including copious amounts of fresh water provided by sufficient water-makers to allow for showering.
Similarly, a comfortable saloon with a big video screen is always welcome, so that you can relax there during surface intervals. None of these features is really important, yet these are the ones that are so often used in the marketing of a boat.

TENDERS
Pick-up boats need to be of sufficient reliability, capacity and number to service all the guests. One at least needs to stay stationed over the dive site to provide safety cover.

PHOTOGRAPHY
Once each diver has sufficient space, we need to consider the specialist needs of underwater photographers, an increasingly common breed of diver.
A separate freshwater rinse tank for cameras will keep lens ports free of slime. A dry-table area kept solely for camera equipment will help with the delicate, yet crucial, task of reloading batteries and media cards, and resealing the camera inside its housing without foreign bodies causing disastrous floods. The table needs to be well-lit, too.

JACUZZIS
Many vessels now boast Jacuzzis. These are rarely used. Half a tonne of water sloshing about on an upper deck does little for a vessels stability when underway. Jacuzzis are more of a promotional tool than for actual use.

X-FACTOR
Finally, it makes sense to mention the most important element of a liveaboard dive vessel.
There are some boats that come nowhere near the specifications outlined here, yet remain immensely popular with the diving public. They are more existaboard than liveaboard.
Why then their success Its down to the crew.
A good crew can make all the difference between a great trip and a lesser one.
A knowledgeable dive guide, one who meets your requirements, will make all the difference to your diving.

LIVEABOARD ETIQUETTE
Andy Blackford pointed out that I snored when we shared a bunk together on a liveaboard. Yes, you read that right. Circumstances can be difficult at times, and needs must. We had been invited together on a trip - provided we shared. Hes never mentioned this fact in any of his columns. I guess he didnt find it that funny.
The problem is that those who snore do it while unconscious, so have little control. I wish I didnt snore. The fact is that when you spend time in the close proximity of others, as you do on a liveaboard, you need to consider the needs of others, too.
By that I mean that you must be sure to keep a cabin shared with a stranger tidy; leave the shower as you would wish to find it; and use the hose that comes with the toilet rather than filling the bin with soiled paper.
Most importantly, you must avoid flushing anything that has not previously been digested or the toilet will be out of action. When this happens, the rest of the room becomes very unattractive.
Unconnected with the Blackford incident, I once went on a gay dive charter. It was a pleasure, because everyone was very considerate of the needs of everyone else, nobody trespassed in anyone elses space and everyone had respect for everyone elses equipment. Its a pity everybody isnt like that!
Etiquette aboard a liveaboard is simply about consideration for others. Be there for the dive briefing. Everyone will be waiting for you, so if youre not diving, let someone know so that time isnt wasted.
Dont fight to be the first to kit up and be in the water. Wait patiently for the nitrox analyser. The fish arent going anywhere.
If the dive guide limits you to an hour under water, dont stay for 90 minutes. Everyone will be waiting, and the boat might need to relocate somewhere before it gets dark.
Boat-diving, especially liveaboard diving, is all about listening to and following the instructions given in briefings. Its likely that youll get back to the boat at the same time as other divers, but dont crowd the ladder.
A diver who falls off it onto your head will leave you a lasting memory - or perhaps the opposite.
Wait your turn, bobbing at the surface where the crew can see you.
Never wait unseen beneath the hull, in case the captain needs to move the boat suddenly.
Youll need some method of making yourself easily seen at the surface. An SMB for day and a lamp at night are common solutions, although I favour an extendible flag. Your pick-up boat driver will need to see you, but dont stay somewhere thats hazardous for that boat once hes seen you.
Swim on the surface away from the reef or the shore, where waves might be breaking, but remember that the most dangerous thing you will meet while diving is your boat - or someone elses.
Stay alert. Divers can be so busy talking about the dive that they become oblivious to whats happening around them.
Wait at the surface and allow the coxn to bring the pick-up boat to you. Hell steer it broadside on, with the wind pushing the boat towards you.
Pass up your weights first, and any valuable items such as cameras, before removing your BC and tanking and helping the boatman to pull it on board. Hell have his own system, so
follow instructions.
Learn how to climb over the tubes of an inflatable. It doesnt need strength, just technique. Dont be afraid to ask your dive guide to teach you.
If divers already in the boat sit on the opposite tube, theyll make your side higher and harder to climb over. If youre already in the boat, bear in mind the effect youre having.
Its also considered bad form to stand on other peoples cameras and equipment at any point!
When you approach the mothership after a dive, the painter or rope at the front will probably be caught under some gear. The person at the front should busy himself freeing this during the journey back to the boat.
Get yourself off the pick-up boat and onto the main vessel under instruction from the crew. Similarly, when you first move from swim platform to inflatable, the crew will have a method theyll want you to use in order to avoid accidents.
Dont touch other peoples dive kit or camera equipment, no matter how interesting it looks. They wont thank you for it.
Its important that everyone has a good time. Someone having a bad time will soon impinge on your pleasure.
Accidents happen, but if they tell you not to do deep dives or dives requiring decompression stops, dont do them. A diving accident affects everyone, and at best the vessel needs to return to port with the casualty - which means its the end of the trip for everyone.
Dont snorkel out in the blue with dolphins or with oceanic whitetip sharks. Dolphin pods are associated with ocean-roving sharks, and a bite can easily be fatal.
Similarly, dont swim from the boat when it is moored without telling a member of the crew, and dont venture onto the swim platform when the boat is underway. That includes you, gentlemen. More drowned crew-members from cargo ships are found with their trouser flies open than not, having fallen off the stern. Ask Robert Maxwell.
There are some parts of the boat that you should not enter unless invited. The engine-room is a very hazardous place when the boat is operating, and you may not be welcome in the wheelhouse at times. And I remember well a person who visited the unattended bridge and took an interest in the auto-pilot. Dont touch things that are not yours to touch.
The rope deck on the forward part of the vessel is not a place where passengers are welcome, and when the crew are attending to a mooring, handling heavy ropes and even heavier loads, or when the vessel is manoeuvring into harbour, make yourself scarce.
If you are unwell during your stay, the boat should have a well-stocked medicine chest. However, the crew are rarely qualified as doctors, so its down to you to diagnose and self-administer any treatment. Keep the dive guides informed of your condition.

I remember the letters from a medical doctor whose wife became ill during a liveaboard trip. He decided (wrongly) that she did not have decompression illness, and naturally the crew acquiesced to his judgment. Despite his qualification, he later blamed the crew.
Similarly, it might not be right to impinge on medics who happen to be passengers unless they offer to help. Im sure they would if needed.
Its important to get on with everyone, whatever their language, whether passenger or crew. After all, you are all in the same boat.
So avoid mentioning politics or religion over dinner. It only leads to ill-feeling!

See The World-Beating Liveaboards